Membership Retention and Renewal Findings

Findings from the 2012 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report show a pretty consistent theme when it comes to membership renewals – renew members early and often.

 • The average renewal rate for individual membership organizations this past year was 78% and the average renewal rate for trade or organizational memberships was 85%.
• The average first year member renewal rate for individual membership organizations this past year was 67% and the average first year renewal rate for trade or organizational memberships was 75%.
• Associations that offer an “early-renewal discount” were more likely to see an increase in renewal rates over the past year (24% to 19%).
• Associations that start their renewal efforts five months or more BEFORE expiration were more likely to see an increase in renewal rates over the past year (25.7% to 19.8%).
• Associations that have between 7 and 15 contacts in their renewal series were more likely to see their renewal rates increase over the past year (40.9% to 29.1%).
• Associations with first year member renewal rates below 60% were more likely to have seen their membership decline over the past year (29.4% to 18.3%).
• Associations that continue renewal efforts from at least three months after a member’s expiration date and up to continuous efforts are more likely to maintain renewal rates above 80% (80.2% to 69.4%).

I am often asked, based on these findings, how this research should be applied. My answer comes as both a warning and an encouragement.

Anyone reviewing this benchmarking data should be aware that because an activity or practice has a statistical correlation with better renewals or growing membership, I am not claiming that any single behavior in and of itself causes this outcome. There are literally thousands of variables that impact membership results. So I am reporting correlations and not claiming causation from any one behavior or statistic or finding.

Nevertheless, if as a membership marketer you see that organizations with certain behaviors or practices tend to be doing better, you at least will want to explore the issue and see if there is something that can be applied to your organization.

For example, from the data above, if you only have three contacts in your renewal series, reading that other groups have success with additional notices or early renewal offerings, may help direct you to what new renewal initiatives might be worthy of testing.

There is an ancient proverb that I like to quote. It says, "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed”. I view our benchmarking research as an opportunity to get advice from nearly 700 other membership organizations and learn from their activities and results. But ultimately, every organization has a unique set of opportunities and challenges that it must individually respond to in order to be successful.


News on Social Media and Membership Marketing

As we continue compiling the data for the 2012 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report for our upcoming release, I thought that I would share some trends that we are seeing related to social media. The data represents responses from nearly 700 unique associations.

The data suggests to me that there has been a nearly complete adoption by associations of the official use of at least some social media tools. Here are some interesting findings that I have noted.

• The top social media networks officially used for association membership are: Facebook 86%, Twitter 78%, LinkedIn (Public) 55%, YouTube 55%, and LinkedIn (Private) 29%.

• Associations have increased their official use of Twitter: 66% in 2010, 71% in 2011, and now 78% in 2012.

• Associations have increased their official use of YouTube: 35% in 2010, 45% in 2011, and now 53% in 2012.

• 11% of associations are now officially using Google+.

• Associations with more than 20,000 members are much more likely to use social media, 96% use Facebook, 90% use Twitter, and 70% use YouTube.

• 31% of associations with more than 20,000 members have a private social network.

• Only 2% of the 685 responding associations do not officially do any social networking, down from 8% in 2010 and 6% in 2011.

The question that we asked from which I drew most of this data was, “Which social media does your association officially use?” We are cross tabulating these responses against previous years’ data, the number of members, budget size, industry, and key membership statistics like new members, renewal rates, and overall membership growth.

Product and Service Engagement Drives Membership Retention and Growth

The connection between the products and services offered by an association and the impact of usage of these on membership is profound. Effectively, it is the fast track to membership success.

Intuitively, we all know that members using the associations services is good, but seeing the statistics to support it highlights the critical nature in the membership lifecycle of member engagement.

In our soon to be published 2012 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, we asked associations to tell us first whether they offered a specific program or service and then the proportion of their members that participated in it. For example, if an association had an annual conference or trade show, what proportion of the members attended? If a product or service was not offered by an organization then they were excluded from the analysis for that particular item. Overall, we had more than 650 unique associations respond to this question.

What we found is that usage had a very strong correlation with many key membership statistics. Organizations that reported a higher level of usage where more likely to say that they experienced better outcomes in their membership results.

Here are the products and services where a higher proportion of members who had the following actions correlated with better membership outcomes (the average level of member participation for groups that offer the product is in parenthesis after each item):

• Attend their annual meeting or trade show (23%)
• Attend at least one of their professional development meeting (22%)
• Attend at least one of their webinars (16%)
Volunteered with the organization (12%)
• Participate in their private social network (13%)
• Participate in their public social network (13%)
• Participate in their young professional program (8%)
Upgrade their membership to a higher level (12%)
• Purchase a book or directory (13%)
• Acquire or maintain a certification (22%)
Donate to the foundation or PAC (10%)

With each of these behaviors, a higher proportion of membership usage correlated with an:

• Increase in overall membership over the past year
• Increase in overall membership over the past five years
• Increase in new members over the past year
• Increase in renewal rates over the past year

Sometimes survey data highlights new insights and sometimes it confirms long held beliefs. In this case, most people would agree that it makes sense that valuable products and services offered by a membership organization will result in more members and higher levels of retention. Nevertheless, it is always good to validate long held beliefs. And by the way, there is a product or two offered by many associations where there was not a correlation between usage and membership growth, but you will have to read the final report to find out what product that is.

Do Chapters Strengthen or Weaken an Association’s Membership?

You would probably agree with the statement that local and state chapters of national associations can provide a valuable service to members. They make more face to face interactions available and bring a geographic focus to important issues.

However, when we look at membership statistics of organizations with and without chapters, a more complicated picture arises.

In our soon to be published 2012 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 688 unique associations identified whether or not they had chapters or were actually a chapter of a larger organization. A total of 349 did not have chapters, 318 had chapters, and 21 served as a chapter for a larger organization.

With this response, we compared just the associations that have chapters with those who reported that they do not have chapters on a number of key, self reported, membership statistics. Here is what we found.

• Associations without chapters were more likely to report an increase in membership over the past year than those associations with chapters (52% to 44%).

• Associations without chapters were more likely to report membership increases over the past five years (52% to 45%).

• Associations without chapters were more likely to report increases in renewal rates over the past year (51% to 43%).

• Associations without chapters were more likely to report renewal rates over 80% (52% to 45%).

What does this data mean? I do not think that it means that having a chapter structure is either good or bad. But it does seem to indicate that organizations that have chapters may need to work harder on membership recruitment and retention than those organizations that do not have this structure.

What have your experiences been working on membership within a chapter structure? Do you have an explanation of why these statistics seem to show one structure seems to work better than another? Please share your thoughts.

Fast Facts from the 2012 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report

We have started compiling the data for the 2012 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. The data represents responses from nearly 700 unique associations. Here are some random fast facts that I have picked up looking through the data:

 • 52% of responding associations said that their membership grew over the past year.
• The average overall renewal rate reported this year is 80.37%.
• 7% of associations offer an online only (paperless) membership option.
• 9.5% of associations offer an unemployed membership category.
• Less than 7% of associations use texting as part of their membership marketing efforts.
• 86% of associations officially use Facebook as part of their social media.
• The average number contacts in a renewal series (mail, email, phone, etc) is 6.26.
 
Overall, all the key indicators from the data that I have looked at so far point to a much stronger environment for membership organizations than any time since we began to compile data in 2009. There are a lot more findings to come, so stay tuned.